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One Good Soldier: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 21:30 EDT



July 1, 2394 A.D.
Mars Orbit, Sol System
Saturday, 11:05 AM, Earth Eastern Standard Time

“Lieutenant Commander Buckley and Captain Harrison are here, Admiral.” The XO stood at ease in the hatch of the admiral’s office.

“Come in, Larry, come in.”

Joe wasn’t sure what all this was about other than the fact that he had been ordered to report to the CHENG and the XO as soon as he got the “goddamned elevator back online.” That had been the XO’s exact words.

“At ease, gentlemen.” RADM Jefferson stood with a deadpan expression and his arms behind his back. Joe tried to relax just enough as not to look too at ease. Joe knew that the admiral liked him. Well, at least he thought he did. He had given the admiral every reason to like him. Hell, Joe’s dad had sacrificed himself to save the ship for Captain Jefferson years ago. And then Joe had done nearly the same damned thing on his first day on the job. Hopefully, if there was some ass chewing about the elevator trick then his past performance would soften it. And there was always the nagging fact that his antics helped them defeat the Blair in the wargame. Being on the winning side was always better than being on the losing one, especially when it came to ass chewings.

“Sir.” He and Benny responded almost in harmony with each other. Benny’s voice was a little more baritone than Joe’s, and couldn’t neither one of the carry a damned tune in bucket.

“Benny, I have to tell you, your presence in the Engineering Room most certainly was missed today. Did you hear about all the crazy things that went on down there in the Engineering Room of my ship?”

“Aye, Admiral, I did,” Benny replied.

“Lieutenant Commander Joseph Buckley Jr., what are we supposed to do with you?” The admiral turned from Benny to Joe. “That trick with the elevator you pulled today, son, well, it was underhanded, and dirty pool. Let me tell you, Admiral Walker ain’t none too happy about it either. And the audacity of putting up the notice sign…”

“Sir.” Joe looked straight ahead and tried not to let his voice crack. “Just following procedure for the elevator maintenance, Admiral.”

“Benny, what do you think about it?” the CO asked.

“Admiral, if you ask me, I’d say it was clever, sneaky, and I never would’ve done it in a million years. The sign was a nice touch.”

Oh great, Benny is selling me out, Joe thought. The sign had actually been Andy’s doing, but Joe wasn’t going to cause his Engineer’s Mate any undo strife by giving up that information. No sir, he’d take the lumps for that sign. Hell, Benny was right, it was a nice touch. And, it was funny as hell.

Relax Joe, Debbie tried to calm his nerves but his heart rate was through the roof. You know that Benny wouldn’t sell you out.

“And what about wrecking a perfectly good piece of hardware on my ship just to win a sim, and then go about sabotaging the propulsion systems because he didn’t want to have to fight off a few wussy Marines--”

“Ahem!” USMC Brigadier General Larry Chekov grunted.

“No disrespect intended, EndRun, just making a point,” the admiral grinned at his XO. The XO muttered something about squids, but not loud enough for any of them to make out.

“What’s that, XO?”

“Nothing, Admiral. Just clearing my throat.”

“Benny?” the admiral turned back to the CHENG.

“Again, sir, I never would have done it in a million years,” Benny repeated the same answer.

“And why is that, Captain Harrison?”

“Well, Admiral, I hate to admit this, but I just don’t think I’d have ever thought of it, sir.” Benny let a thin smile cross his lips briefly.

“Never would have thought of it?” the XO interjected. Joe was afraid the vein throbbing on the side of the Marine’s neck was going to burst at any moment. “Am I to believe that you are telling us now that Buckley Jr. here is smarter than our CHENG?”

“I’m afraid so, XO.”

“Pardon my French, Admiral, but that just will not fucking do, sir. Goddamnit, it will not fucking do, Admiral.”

“Why is that, Larry?” It was clear that the admiral was quite used to the fact that in order to properly function his XO seemed to have the need to profusely spout expletives several times a sentence, or he might keel over. After six years on the Madira, Joe was quite aware of that fact himself. He had learned a little too closely a few times. Everybody on board knew that the admiral and the XO had served together for decades and so the admiral always seemed completely unfazed and mostly immune to the colorful expletives.

“Sir, we are the U.S.S.-by-God Sienna Madira. The flagship of the fleet. Our Marines are the goddamned toughest sonsabitches ever to shit between shoes. Our mecha jocks fly like no other and eat their own vomit for lunch on a regular basis all the while begging for fucking more. Our Army pukes puke better than any. So, our by God CHENG had better be able to out fucking CHENG any other goddamned CHENG in this wonderful fleet of ours, sir.”

“And your point, XO?” The admiral looked back and forth between the XO and Buckley. Joe stood motionless, not understanding at all what this was about. He felt the best plan was to stand still and keep his damned mouth shut until he was told to speak.

“Well, sir, if’n our CHENG has done gotten so damned old and outdated that even he admits that Buckley Jr. here can out-CHENG him, then maybe he ought to be thinking about some damned greener pastures somewhere else, sir.” The XO sighed. “No offense, Benny.”

“None taken, XO.” Benny was clearly now straining not to laugh, but Joe was still left out of the joke.

“Well, Benny, just what do you have to say about the XO’s comments?” the admiral cocked his right eyebrow.

“Well, sir, I guess he’s right. I’ll just have to retire, sir.”

“Well, damned if that sure doesn’t leave us in a bind here, CHENG! We are to ship off to the Oort in a couple hours and my CHENG is up and quitting on me? When do you plan to leave us?”

“Uh, Admiral, my bags are packed and I plan to make shore before the Madira breaks orbit, sir. I’ve got several weeks leave I put in for. I’m gonna take that and then my final date is next month, sir. Of course, you already approved my leave, Admiral.” Now Benny couldn’t control his laughter.

“Well, goddamn, that had slipped my mind. One other thing, sailor; you’ll be missed around here, Benny.” The admiral held his hand out sincerely and shook Benny’s hand. Joe still didn’t get the joke.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Same goes for me, Benny. You always kept us running while we were in the shit,” the XO added and shook hands with the CHENG. “Can’t ask for more than that of any CHENG. So, you’re not having a party or nothing?”

“I just want to go home to Luna and spend some time with my great-great-grandchildren, sir. Apparently, I have thirty-seven of them.” Joe wasn’t sure, but he thought he actually saw a tear in the CHENG’s eye. “I hate retirement parties.”

“Well, by damned you will have one, sailor, and that is an order. We’ll make a point of it when we get back from the outer system.” The admiral continued to shake Benny’s hand. “But you are still leaving us in a serious bind.”

“No CHENG, sir,” the XO nodded in agreement. The gruff Marine went straight back to his normal gridiron hardassed self. “Got to have a CHENG.”

“I’m aware of that XO. But who could do the job?” the admiral asked no one in particular.

“If you ask me, sir, I think Buckley here would make a good CHENG someday,” Benny said, and turned to his Assistant Chief Engineer with a big smile. “Maybe if he were put to work being the CHENG he wouldn’t have enough time to go about tearing up the Engineering Room every time he turns around. And it might make him a little more reluctant to fry himself with x-rays every chance he has a decent excuse to.”

“Buckley, you up for it?” the admiral looked Joe square in the eyes, but Joe didn’t falter a bit. Well, his mind was racing, his heart was racing, and his stomach was in knots, hard U.S. Navy knots, but he didn’t hesitate to answer.

“Aye-aye, sir!”

“Wait a minute, Admiral. There is a problem with that,” the XO interrupted again.

“What’s that, Larry?”

“The Blair has an O5 as their CHENG. We can’t have a lower ranked officer as our CHENG than she does. That just wouldn’t be fitting, Admiral.” Joe glanced at the old Marine only slightly, since he didn’t want to take his eyes off Admiral Wallace, but he couldn’t tell from the glance if the XO was serious, joking, or just being an ass. But that was usually the way it was with General Chekov.

“You’re right, Larry.” Rear Admiral Upper Half Wallace Jefferson turned and picked up something from his desk and handed it to Joe. “Open it, son.”

Joe opened the little box and found a silver leaf, and two melding fabric patches. Each of the patches had three gold stripes at the bottom with a single gold star above them in the middle of the patch. The smaller of the patches was for the collar of his UCU jacket and the larger for his shoulder. Joe didn’t say a word.

“Congratulations, Commander Buckley.” The admiral offered Joe his hand.

“Take care of her, Joe.” Benny slapped his protégé on the back. “Or should I say, CHENG?”

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